Saturday, July 20, 2024

Cookies from the Crumbl shop in Saugus. (Photo: Alyssa P. via Yelp)

Don’t start lining up for Crumbl cookies in Central Square. The chain’s proposed design for 425 Massachusetts Ave. met Planning Board opposition Tuesday that obliges it to come back for a continued hearing.

The problem is cookie espionage – and a solution to it that overlooks a tenet of Cambridge design and a key aspect of the design of the Market Central space at the Lafayette Square end of Central Square.

Crumbl would be the first occupant of a 1,500-square-foot retail space across from the Central Square Theater and separated from a neighboring McDonald’s by an alley. The McDonald’s side is a cinderblock wall on a 1973 building with a fantastical mural set in the dark of space; the Market Central side, a 2019 building by Twining Properties, has floor-to-ceiling windows.

Design guidelines require windows and transparency to give a sense of street-level “activation in the neighborhood,” Catherine Preston Connolly, the board’s vice chair, explained to the Crumbl team.

A rendering of Crumbl’s “pink wave” window treatment fron documents presented Tuesday to Cambridge’s Planning Board. (Image: Crumbl)

In designing the operation for its brand-new space in Central Square, though, the Crumbl team saw the floor-to-ceiling windows required by the city and proposed to cover them almost completely with a vinyl covering it called the “pink wave.”

“This is something that is 100 percent unique to this Crumbl cookies location,” Crumbl attorney Gregory Richard said, a selling point lost on the board members. “We also are dealing with Crumbl cookies corporate, which has certain restrictions as to looking into the rear of the kitchen. We did try to work as best as we could with the city’s design requirements as well as what corporate would approve, and ultimately we were able to get this this pink wave.”

The company actually specializes in having an open kitchen, location owner Joseph Oppedisano told Planning Board members. “That’s what makes Crumble unique – when customers come through the front door, they can actually see our product being made with mixers and ovens and people balling dough. It’s a very beautiful, nice environment,” Oppedisano said. “But what’s behind that wall is actually storage and sinks and storage and boxes. They do not allow anybody to video or take pictures of the back of the house.”

“For trade secrets,” Oppedisano said.

“So we’re dealing with cookie espionage,” Planning Board member Lou Bacci clarified.

The pink wave doesn’t just make the windows largely pointless, defying the point of the city requirement for transparency, but becomes “a chalkboard for graffiti,” Bacci said.

Though there are also windows at the front of the location on Massachusetts Avenue, the shop’s other side and rear are solid wall. “Just flip your plan,” member Tom Sieniewicz suggested. “Simply flip your plan with the kitchen on the outside and the storage on the inside, and everybody will be happy.”

It was impossible to commit immediately to flipping the floor plan, since there were questions about setting up utilities. “I don’t want to say it absolutely cannot work,” Richard said, suggesting instead that Crumble could lower its pink wave slightly or install frosted glass.

At a bit of an impasse, Connolly told the company representatives that she didn’t want to “make light of the cookie espionage,” as she was aware of a lawsuit between Crumbl and competitors regarding the stealing of trade secrets. “It’s unlikely that we’re going to get them to budge much on this, but we should explore ways to have the activation that is really important to us as a city. We can be sensitive to Crumbl’s need to be protective of their intellectual property, but we need them to be sensitive to our need to have activation in the neighborhood.” Members also brought up the recent loss of Milk Bar and its cookies in Harvard Square.

Crumbl is before the Planning Board as a “formula” business – a chain with trademarked logos and a standardized color scheme – needing a special permit to open. The rest of Richards’ presentation went over better than the pink wave, including bringing around 50 jobs to the area to make substantial cookies in rotating flavors from scratch daily.

“The aroma is going to bring people to this location,” Richard said. “There’s an ice cream shop right down the street. We’re hoping that somebody might feel so inclined to buy a couple of cookies and go to the ice cream shop and make their own ice cream cookie sandwiches.’”